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Chapter 9 - Books for General Readers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2010

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Summary

In the idea of literature one essential element is some relation to a general and common interest of man – so that what applies only to a local, or professional, or merely personal interest, even though presenting itself in the shape of a book, will not belong to literature.

Thomas de Quincey

Serious nonfiction – whether written by journalists, professional writers, or academics – has become very popular. Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind and Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time both appeared on The New York Times' best-seller list for weeks on end (Hawking's for nearly two years), and books by scholars such as Harry Frankfurt, Steven Pinker, and Elaine Pagels have made frequent, if briefer, appearances. Still more books by academic writers, though not best-sellers, have sold in respectable numbers, sometimes for several years.

Academics have many reasons to write for general readers. Trade books bring their authors more money than monographs do, though usually not as much as textbooks. They also allow scholars to communicate with people other than their colleagues and students. Writing for a nonspecialized audience conveys a researcher's own discoveries, the state of a discipline, enthusiasm for work, or the urgency of an issue or cause to significant numbers of people. It is another way to make a difference: to influence public policy, interest people in an important subject, reduce ignorance about a discipline, or bring readers up to date on important research.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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